Eastern Africa, 1900 A.D.–present

  • Tent Divider (Te Saqwit)
  • Headrest
  • Headrest
  • Lidded Basket
  • Multi-Lidded Vessel
  • Lidded Basket
  • Screen (Inyeqamo)
  • Sandal Pair
  • Untitled
  • Memorial Post


1900 A.D.

1925 A.D.

European colonization of East Africa, 1884–1975
African artists exposed to Western artistic practices and patronage during colonial period, ca. 1900–ca. 1960

1925 A.D.

1950 A.D.

European colonization of East Africa, 1884–1975
African artists exposed to Western artistic practices and patronage during colonial period, ca. 1900–ca. 1960
Khartoum School, Sudan, ca. 1950–ca. 1960

1950 A.D.

1975 A.D.

European colonization of East Africa, 1884–1975
African artists exposed to Western artistic practices and patronage during colonial period, ca. 1900–ca. 1960
Independence from Europe; Africans reemerge as major patrons of African artists, ca. 1960–present
Khartoum School, Sudan, ca. 1950–ca. 1960
Development of shetani genre of Makonde sculpture, 1959–present
Paa ya Paa Cultural Center, Nairobi, Kenya, ca. 1960–ca. 1990
Suppression and destruction of art in Ethiopia, 1974–80

1975 A.D.

2000 A.D.

European colonization of East Africa, 1884–1975
Independence from Europe; Africans reemerge as major patrons of African artists, ca. 1960–present
Development of shetani genre of Makonde sculpture, 1959–present
Paa ya Paa Cultural Center, Nairobi, Kenya, ca. 1960–ca. 1990
Suppression and destruction of art in Ethiopia, 1974–80
Restoration of royal line in Uganda, 1993–present


By the late nineteenth century, Britain, Germany, and Portugal end Arabic control of the Sudan, Swahili Coast, and East African interior. The Horn of Africa similarly falls under European rule when Italy invades the Kingdom of Ethiopia in 1935. Traditional forms of art created for ritual and utilitarian purposes, including masks and figures, as well as personal items such as snuff containers are widely collected by museum-sponsored ethnographic expeditions during the first decades of the twentieth century. Western art schools are founded in East Africa, and African artists begin to experiment with newly learned techniques and materials introduced from the West. Artists such as Ibrahim el-Salahi of Sudan and Sam Ntiro of Tanzania continue their art education outside of Africa and participate in international creative movements. In British and Portuguese East Africa (later Uganda, Kenya, Tanganyika, and Mozambique), colonial policies of indirect rule encourage the formation of a local African political class educated by African and Western university systems. Young African intellectuals including Julius Nyerere, Jomo Kenyatta, and Eduardo Mondlane emerge as leaders of national liberation movements that achieve independence for their countries. Eastern African artists, who have longstanding traditions of producing art for foreign clients, continue to do so in the twentieth century by developing sculptural genres sold to international consumers. A region rich in architectural and urban history, East Africa is the site of developments in both these fields. Italian modernism, in the form of Art Deco architecture, takes hold in the region of the Horn while Tanzania builds a new capital based on the tenets of Ujamaa, its national political code.

Key Events

  • 1902

    Gordon Memorial College is founded in Khartoum, Sudan, and offers art classes.

  • 1906–7

    The Museum für Völkerkunde, Leipzig, sponsors a collecting expedition to the Rovuma river valley region of German East Africa (present-day southern Tanzania) led by German ethnologist Karl Weule. He returns with an extensive and important collection of masks, figures, and utilitarian items from East African peoples such as the Makonde, Makua, and Yao.

  • 1918

    German East Africa (Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanganyika) is divided between Britain and Belgium after Germany’s defeat in World War I.

  • 1935

    Italy invades the Kingdom of Ethiopia.

  • 1937

    The Fine Arts School is founded at Makerere College in Kampala, Uganda, and Margaret Trowell is appointed its director. She develops a curriculum that cultivates and preserves indigenous African styles and aesthetic values while introducing new media and methods of art production such as silkscreen printing and easel painting. Promising students, such as Tanzanian painter Sam Ntiro (1923–1993), are sent to study at the Slade School of Fine Art and the Royal Academy of Arts in London. The work of her students is displayed at the Imperial Institute, London, in 1939.

  • 1940

    Black Africans from French and English colonies are conscripted into the war against Nazi Germany.

  • 1950s–60s

    Western-educated Sudanese artists Ibrahim el-Salahi (born 1930) and Ahmad Muhammad Shibrain (born 1931) establish what becomes known as the Khartoum School. Inspired in part by the pictographic compositions of Paul Klee and others interested in symbolic forms of visual communication, they utilize Arabic calligraphy as the foundation for their art.

  • 1954

    The Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), led by Julius Nyerere, is formed as a mass political party representing the interests of farmers’ unions and cooperatives.

  • 1956

    Sudan gains independence from Britain.

  • 1959

    Under the patronage of Mohammed Peera, a Dar es Salaam merchant, Makonde artist Samaki Likankoa begins to produce nnandenga sculptures, also known as shetani. Sinuous, abstracted forms representing subjects and ideas drawn from Makonde oral traditions, the works are sculpted from African blackwood. The new sculptural genre draws interest from European and American expatriates living in East Africa, and works created by Likankoa and other artists are exhibited in museum shows and catalogues devoted to modern African art.

  • 1960

    Somalia gains independence from Italy and Britain.

  • 1960s–90s

    Elimo Njau (born 1932), a graduate of the Fine Arts Program at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, establishes the Paa ya Paa (“The Antelope Rises”) Cultural Center in Nairobi, Kenya. Dedicated to nurturing the arts in East Africa, the center hosts visiting artists and students.

  • 1961

    Tanganyika (later Tanzania) gains independence from Britain and Julius Nyerere is elected its first president.

  • 1962

    Uganda becomes an independent state and member of the Commonwealth; former Belgian colonies Rwanda and Burundi also achieve independence.

  • 1963

    Kenya gains independence from Britain; Jomo Kenyatta is elected prime minister.

  • 1963

    FRELIMO (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique) commences its armed struggle against the Portuguese in Mozambique.

  • 1963

    Following a revolution in Zanzibar that overthrows the sultanate, the island unites with Tanganyika to form Tanzania.

  • 1964

    Malawi gains independence from Britain; Hastings Kamuzu Banda is elected head of state.

  • 1967

    Tanzania’s president Julius Nyerere proclaims the Arusha Declaration, calling for a policy of self-reliance based on the principles of Ujamaa, a form of African socialism rooted in indigenous social and economic structures.

  • 1970

    Malawi relocates its capital from Zomba to Lilongwe.

  • 1971

    In a military coup, Idi Amin deposes Ugandan president Milton Obote and expels all Asians from the country in the following year. The Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) ousts Amin from power in 1979.

  • 1973

    Tanzania relocates its capital from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma at the center of the country. The move is meant to help stimulate the economy of the interior and to bring the national government closer to the people it serves, a basic tenet of the Ujamaa policy instituted under the administration of President Julius Nyerere. Committed to building a city in which all inhabitants enjoy equally the benefits of economic opportunity and governmental representation, the city is designed so that residents have access to arable land, transportation networks are pedestrian-friendly, and neighborhoods are comprised of a mixture of commercial, governmental, and residential spaces.

  • 1974

    Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia is overthrown by a military coup and replaced by the Derge, a Marxist junta. Opportunities for artists are limited to the creation of state-sponsored propaganda, generally in a style of socialist realism akin to that promoted in the Soviet Union under Stalin and his successors. The Derge’s antagonism toward artistic expression results in the emigration of several Ethiopian artists to the West and the destruction of examples of artifacts associated with Ethiopia’s Christian imperial heritage. Many artists, such as Skunder Boghossian (1937–2003) and Wosene Kosrof (born 1950), take teaching positions and fellowships at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

  • 1975

    Mozambique gains independence from Portugal.

  • 1977

    Djibouti gains independence from France.

  • 1978

    Lalibela, the late twelfth- or early thirteenth-century rock-hewn religious complex and pilgrimage site of Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity named for the Zagwe king Lalibela, is designated a UNESCO world heritage site.

  • 1979–80

    Three sites in Ethiopia receive world heritage status by UNESCO: the fortress city of Fasil Ghebbi (16th–17th century) in the Gondar region; Aksum, the capital of the Aksumite kingdom (ca. 300 B.C.–600 A.D.); and Tiya, a Prehistoric archaeological site in the Soddo region.

  • 1980

    UNESCO declares Aksum, the capital of the Aksumite kingdom (ca. 300 B.C.–600 A.D.), a world heritage site.

  • 1981

    The ruins of two great East African ports active between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara in Tanzania, are designed world heritage sites by UNESCO.

  • 1983

    In Sudan, President Numayri imposes shari’a (Islamic law).

  • 1985

    The artist collective Rockson Studios is formed in Lusaka, Zambia. It is part of the Triangle Arts network of artists’ workshops and residencies in Africa.

  • 1989

    Magiciens de la terre, the first major museum exhibition to prominently display modern and contemporary art from Africa, opens at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

  • 1991

    The exhibition Africa Explores: 20th Century African Art opens at the Center for African Art, New York.

  • 1991

    UNESCO declares the fortified city of Mozambique, on the island of the same name, a world heritage site.

  • 1993

    Eritrea, formerly a territory within Ethiopia, becomes an independent state.

  • 1993

    The reign of the Kabakas of Buganda, the East African kingdom that is now Uganda, is restored under His Majesty Ssabasajja Kabaka Rodney Muwenda Mutebi II, reinvigorating traditions of cultural leadership and royal patronage.

  • 1993

    Receiving widespread international distribution, Sankofa, a film by Ethiopian director Haile Gerima (born 1946), traces the history of Ghanaian slavery. Sankofa is an Akan word that refers to the proverb, “We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward; so we understand why and how we came to be who we are today.”.

  • 1994

    Genocide in Rwanda. Hutu militia backed by sectors of the military begin the systematic massacre of Tutsis, killing some 800,000 in three months.

  • 1995

    Africa ’95, a festival of African art in England, includes the work of several contemporary artists in exhibitions such as Seven Stories About Modern Art in Africa at Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, and Self Evident at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham.

  • 1995

    The Kouna Trust is founded at the National Museum of Kenya as a public outreach organization focused on promoting contemporary art.

  • 1996

    The Guggenheim Museum, New York, hosts a landmark exhibition of photography from throughout the African continent entitled In/sight: African Photographers, 1940 to the Present.

  • 1997

    The Zanzibar Film Festival is established.

  • 1997

    The Paris-based world music label Buda Musique launches the Ethiopiques series, featuring compilations of traditional and popular music from Ethiopia and Eritrea. With twenty-five volumes as of December 2009, the series has been highly influential in popularizing singers and musicians from the Horn of Africa.

  • 1999

    Julius Nyerere, national liberation leader and former president of Tanzania (1964–85), dies.

  • 2000

    In December, a peace accord is struck between Ethiopia and Eritrea, ending two years of conflict.

  • 2000

    UNESCO declares Stone Town of Zanzibar a world heritage site.

  • 2001

    Nigerian curator Okui Enwezor curates The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945–1994, for the Museum Villa Stuck in Munich. The exhibition travels to Berlin, New York, and Chicago.

  • 2001

    Sudanese Salah Hassan and Nigerian Olu Oguibe are the first African curators to participate in the Venice Biennale. Their exhibition is entitled Authentic / Ex-centric: Africa in and out of Africa.

  • 2001

    The Old Town of Lamu, in Kenya, is designated a world heritage site.

  • 2001

    The site of the tombs of Buganda kings at Kasubi in Kampala district, Uganda, is declared a UNESCO world heritage site.

  • 2002

    Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo sign a peace agreement stipulating that Rwanda will pull troops out of DRC and DRC will help disarm Rwandan Hutu mercenaries involved in the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi minority.

  • 2003

    Gebel Barkal and the sites of the Napatan region in Sudan are designated world heritage sites.

  • 2003

    Ethiopian-born American artist Julie Merethu has her solo debut with the exhibition, Julie Mehretu: Drawing into Painting at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

  • 2004

    Pro-government militias massacre thousands of villagers in Darfur, Sudan. The international community calls the systematic slaughter a genocide. The UN installs a peacekeeping force to disarm the militias. In May, the International Criminal Court in the Hague issues arrest warrants for the perpetrators of war crimes in Darfur.

  • 2004

    After protracted talks between Somali warlords and politicians, a tenuous central government is restored in Somali, with Abdullahi Yusuf as president.

  • 2004

    Kenyan ecologist Wangari Maathai wins the Nobel Peace Prize.

  • 2004

    The government of Malawi pledges to provide free antiviral drugs to people with AIDS.

  • 2004–5

    The exhibition Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent, under the curatorial direction of Simon Njami, travels to Düsseldorf, Paris, London, Tokyo, Stockholm, and Johannesburg.

  • 2006

    The fortified sacred town of Harar Jugol in Ethiopia and the rock-art sites in the Kondoa district in Tanzania are designated world heritage sites by UNESCO.

  • 2007

    A group of African artists is presented in the exhibition Think with the Senses, Feel with the Mind: Art in the Present Tense at the 52nd Venice Biennale. Works by about 100 artists and groups are shown at the Arsenale and the Italian Pavilion in the Giardini; Among the African artists represented in that section of the Biennale are paintings by Congolese Chéri Samba, photographs by Malian Malick Sidibé, comics by Ivoirian Faustin Titi and Cameroonian-born Eyoum Ngangué, and installations by Ghanaian-born El Anatsui. In addition to his monumental works shown in the Arsenale, Anatsui also transforms one of Venice’s most celebrated Gothic landmarks with a site-specific installation that redefined the facade of the Palazzo Fortuny.

  • 2007–8

    A political crisis erupts in Kenya following the presidential elections during which President Mwai Kibaki is declared the winner but accused by his opponent of electoral manipulation. Violent riots are quelled after a coalition agreement is signed in February 2008.

  • 2008

    The sacred Mijikenga Kaya forests in Kenya are declared world heritage sites. These forests contain the remains of numerous fortified villages built in the sixteenth century and abandoned in the 1940s.

  • 2008

    Simon Njami organizes the first African Art Fair in Johannesburg.

  • 2009

    A 4.4 million-year-old adult female skeleton, Ardipithecus ramidus, nicknamed “Ardi,” found in 1994 in Afar in the Great Rift Valley of northeastern Ethiopia, is identified as the oldest specimen on the hominid branch found to date


“Eastern Africa, 1900 A.D.–present.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=11&region=afa (October 2004)